A recent joint global investigative journalism project has unveiled the secret real estate holdings worth approximately $400 billion belonging to some of the world’s most influential and notorious individuals in Dubai. This groundbreaking investigation, dubbed “Dubai Unlocked,” has shed light on the properties owned by elite figures, including prominent politicians, sanctioned individuals, money launderers, and criminals, in the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Notably, Pakistanis rank second on the list, with properties valued at up to $11 billion.

The project, based on information about properties, ownership, and usage by millions of individuals in Dubai, predominantly covers data from 2020 to 2022. The Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a Washington-based NGO, obtained the data on assets. This information was shared with the Norwegian financial outlet eTwenty Four and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), who collaborated on a six-month investigative endeavor to trace the property owners. Reporters from 74 media organizations across 58 countries participated in this extensive investigative project.

The investigation identified convicted criminals, fugitives, and political figures who had recently purchased at least one property in Dubai.

Among the Pakistani nationals named in the property leaks are three children of former President Asif Ali Zardari, Hussain Nawaz (son of Nawaz Sharif), the wife of Federal Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi, People’s Party leader Sharjeel Memon and his family, Senator Faisal Vawda, Farah Gogi, Sher Afzal Marwat, and multiple members of the National and Provincial Assemblies from Sindh and Balochistan.

The list also includes the name of the late General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, over a dozen former generals, a police chief, a diplomat, and a scientist. These individuals either directly own properties in Dubai or have properties in the names of their children and spouses. For instance, in 2014, Asif Ali Zardari received a property in Dubai as a gift. When he declared his assets in 2018, he had transferred this property to someone else. However, the Property Leaks data revealed that this property was gifted by Abdul Ghani Majeed to Asif Zardari, who then gifted it to his daughter. Omni Group’s Chief Financial Officer Aslam Masood and his wife are also shown as owners of several properties, one of which was traced back to a 2013 purchase worth AED 160,626 (8 crore Pakistani Rupees). Another individual, Sohrab Dinsha, bought a villa in 2015 for 12 lakh 71 thousand 888 Emirati dirhams (96 million Pakistani rupees). Despite attempts to contact all the individuals, no responses were received except from the late Aslam Masood.

The Altaf Khanani network, sanctioned by the US for involvement in money laundering, also appeared in the list. His son, daughter, brother, and nephew own several properties in Dubai, with three of them facing sanctions. Another significant figure is Rawalpindi-based physician Hamid Mukhtar Shah, banned by the US for his involvement in the kidnapping, detention, and kidney extraction of Pakistani laborers. He owns several properties in Dubai as well. The data also exposed that Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi’s wife owns a property in Dubai, which was not declared in the nomination papers for the Senate election in March this year.

According to Property Leaks, she owns a five-room villa in Arabian Ranches, bought in August 2017, which she sold in April 2023 for AED 4.55 million (34.4 million Pakistani Rupees).

The Property Leaks data revealed that Indian nationals have the highest number of foreign-owned residential properties in Dubai, with 29,700 Indian citizens owning 35,000 properties valued at $17 billion. Pakistani nationals are second, with 17,000 citizens owning 23,000 properties worth an estimated $11 billion. On average, a Pakistani owns a property worth $410,000 (approximately 114 million Pakistani Rupees) in Dubai. The total property value of the elite from 204 countries in Dubai is estimated at $386 billion (10,073 trillion Pakistani Rupees). The leaked data includes detailed information on property ownership, such as controlling parties, dates of birth, passport numbers, and nationalities. In some cases, the data includes tenants rather than owners, as most of the data came from government documents and utility companies.

The investigative journalists involved in the project only disclosed the names of property owners when it served the public interest. The list includes individuals convicted or named in cases, those facing sanctions, government officials or their associates, and those accused of corruption who have hidden their properties from the public. The project reporters used the data as a starting point to explore the dimensions of expatriate property ownership in Dubai. They spent months scrutinizing government records, conducting open-source research, and analyzing other leaked data sets to confirm the identities and ownership status of the individuals exposed.

Only those whose identities could be independently verified by other sources were included in the project.

The project also relied on Dubai’s official land registry to ascertain whether individuals still owned the properties listed. In some cases, ownership status could not be determined because the properties had recently been sold. However, additional efforts were made to verify property ownership, including using the Real Estate Transaction Rental Database.

Dubai is renowned as a symbol of progress and innovation in the Islamic world. Its vibrant business hubs and business-friendly environment attract millions of professionals and entrepreneurs, encouraging significant investment. However, like any major global city, Dubai faces challenges, with some individuals exploiting the system for personal gain. Their actions do not reflect the overall values or governance of the city.

The “Dubai Unlocked” investigation has brought to light the extensive property holdings of the global elite in Dubai, revealing the hidden wealth and assets of influential figures worldwide. The project’s findings highlight the need for greater transparency and regulation in the global real estate market to prevent misuse and ensure accountability. As Dubai continues to grow as a commercial hub, it must address these challenges to maintain its reputation and foster a fair and just business environment.

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